How Latinos Can Cope With Diabetes and Depression
Knowing the symptoms and finding help
Editor's Note: While this columnist is no longer writing for dLife.com and we have ceased to update the information contained herein, there is much to be read here that is still applicable to the lives of people with diabetes. If you wish to act on anything you learn here, be sure to consult your doctor first. Please enjoy the column!
March 2008 — The link between diabetes and depression is fairly visible by now. Studies have shown that depressive symptoms increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and people with diabetes seemingly have twice the risk of experiencing depression compared to those without the disorder. But the elephant in the room seems to be how this situation affects minorities, especially Latinos.
According to the figures from a study1 led by Isabel T. Lagomasino from the Keck School of Medicine at University of Southern California, "depressive disorders affect 5-10% of older primary care patients, although rates may be higher among Latinos, especially among immigrants and those less acculturated."
Combine this alarming fact with the cultural stigma Latinos tend to have against mental illness and you have a recipe for more cases of depression and type 2 diabetes happening concurrently. This stigma can be better understood in light of the connection Latinos typically see between mental illness and being crazy (or "loco") along with the belief that traditional treatments combined with prayer will make symptoms of depression go away.
The situation gets more complicated when you add to the mix the findings of a joint study between the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and San Diego State University. The results show that, in spite of seeing some of the symptoms of depression (feeling "stressed out" or sad) directly affecting their blood sugar, participants "reported little discussion of depression with providers."
As much as some may struggle with this definition, depression is an actual medical disorder. Adriana Davila, a Venezuelan psychiatrist I consulted for this article, hinted at how the chronic characteristics of diabetes translate into a series of lifestyle changes that put to the test the ability to adapt of the people that suffer them.
"Depending on their ability to respond to the challenges posed by the disorder, people with diabetes will either accomplish better control along with psychological and social adaptation or they will struggle with their condition, potentially suffering from depression," Dr. Davila added.
So, one's attitude towards the unique challenges involved in living with diabetes is the start of the battle, but it's not enough. Being proactive and participating in support groups (online or offline) where you can openly share what you are experiencing with others who also have diabetes will help you realize you are not alone in feeling sad or pessimistic at times, nor is it something to be embarrassed of or something for which there is no hope.
This is why it is also very important to become familiarized with the symptoms of depression. If you learn to recognize them and you observe them, you can bring them up when you see your endocrinologist or primary care physician.
If this is your case, I hope these words inspire you to overcome anything currently holding you from getting the help you need.
dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.
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Many people say that depression is a side effect or complication of diabetes. Without discounting the association of the psychological condition with the physical one, I'm not convinced that our high and/or unstable glucose levels are directly responsible for that change in our mental state. My belief is that the unrelenting need for self-care, for following the sort of care schedules that can drive licensed, professional caregivers crazy, is what overwhelms us...